January 26, 2016

International Conference on Family Planning 2016

Written by Maryalice Yakutchik, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

This post originally appeared on JHSPH’s website here. Reposted with permission.

90+ Bloomberg School students, faculty and staff are Nusa Dua bound. Among them: the serendipitously spontaneous Kate Baye

The VIPs have RSVP’d, again. Four event-crammed days are meticulously re-constituted. The fact that a volcano forced last-minute postponement of this event just two months ago seems not to have fazed thousands of attendees who, by the way, are all about planning.

Ironically enough, not many of those heading from all corners of the globe to Indonesia for the International Conference on Family Planning 2016 considers spontaneity a dirty word.

A case in point: MSPH student Catherine “Kate” Baye, MD. In fact, her circuitous path into the family planning realm was steeped in eleventh-hour serendipity.

Flashback a few years: Kate had just earned a medical degree in her native Cameroon and was surfing the Web, researching places that offered master’s programs in public health; among them, Johns Hopkins.

“I just knew I wanted to do public health, because in practicing medicine, I realized my heart was in prevention and mass impact.”

Her interest in youth issues led her that day to stumble on an application for a video contest sponsored by the 2013 ICFP in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Youth—defined by the ICFP as ages 18 to 25—were invited to make short videos related to the conference theme: Full Access, Full Choice.

Kate, then 24, was not put off by the submission deadline being just two days away. Nor by the fact that she didn’t own a camera.

After calling a friend who did, she took to the streets to talk to locals about Cameroon’s high teen pregnancy rate. Among the concerns she heard: family planning services were not young people friendly.

“We shot what footage we could at the local hospital and in my neighborhood,” Kate recalls.

The next evening, she rushed the 4-minute video to her local internet café in Yaoundé, staving off panic during an excruciating 4-hour upload as the midnight deadline ticked closer.

Fast forward: Kate won the contest (watch her winning video here), earning an invite to attend the conference and speak on behalf of the youth during an opening ceremony that featured not only health ministers but also researchers like Amy Tsui, PhD, then director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Bloomberg School, the lead organizer of the 2016 ICFP.

“I couldn’t imagine that I would get to talk with her,” Kate enthused. “Everybody was super great. But she was also so personal.”

Not long after, Kate found herself at the Bloomberg School as a student in the MSPH program and interning at the Gates Institute, with Professor Tsui as her advisor.

Now, Kate’s again headed to the ICFP, the largest international conference dedicated to family planning. This time, she is public relations chair on the executive board of the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning, an organization she and others founded during the previous conference. With Gates funding and members from 53 countries, the fledging initiative is working to galvanize young people around family planning and implement a range of family planning projects in communities around the world.

At the conference in Nusa Dua, Kate is moderating the panel discussion in the Youth Plenary on January 27. She is also co-chairing an interactive youth pre-conference January 24-25 where she anticipates lots of networking opportunities with several hundred youth and young researchers like herself. Their focus will be on opportunities and challenges specific to youth and family planning, including the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in all of their diversity.

And, of course, she awaits the premiere of the video voted best among those submitted by youth in advance of the 2016 ICFP.

“Young people can do a lot with what resources they have,” she insists, speaking from experience. “They don’t need to have everything to do what needs to be done.”